Moonisa Halim is first CH Teen Poet Laureate

Moonisa Halim

At 17 years old, recent Heights High graduate Moonisa "Nia" Halim is the first Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Cleveland Heights.

Her selection was announced at the Cleveland Heights Poets Laureate Reunion, held June 19 at Dobama Theatre, which honored the six poets laureate who have served the city since the program was created in 2006: Loren Weiss, Mary Weems, Meredith Holmes, Gail Bellamy, Cavana Faithwalker and Kathleen Cerveny.

The office of Teen Poet Laureate was the brainchild of Cerveny, the reigning Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate. She convinced members of Cleveland Heights City Council and Amy Rosenbluth, director of Lake Erie Ink (LEI), a nonprofit that offers writing opportunities for young people, to create and oversee the position in order to elevate the art form of creative writing among the city’s youth.

Each teen laureate will serve a 12-month period, from the end of June to the beginning of May the following year.

“I had done a lot of research on poets laureate across the U.S. and knew of several such positions,” said Cerveny, via e-mail. “I knew how effective LEI is in working with young people and how passionate they are about this work, and Amy was enthusiastic from the very start. It seemed a natural addition given the city is the only one in Ohio to have a poet laureate and Cleveland Heights is such a literary and arts-rich community.”  

Cerveny said that Halim was the perfect choice for the city’s first poet laureate: she is a fine poet, passionate about the art and craft; she is “off-the-charts” enthusiastic about the opportunity; she is eager to grow her skills in the craft and in working in the community; and she sees this opportunity as a help to her in moving forward in her life.

Halim, who has lived in Cleveland Heights all her life and attended Canterbury Elementary School and Wiley Middle School before Heights High, said she always liked poetry and started writing about 8 or 9 years ago, when her grandfather died.

“No one was really paying attention to ‘the child’ so I decided to write down how I felt, and it just happened to rhyme,” said Halim. “It was my outlet so that I wasn’t keeping everything inside.”

Halim served as president of Heights High’s Poetry Club. She began participating in poetry performances a couple of years ago, including the annual Teen Poetry Slam at Heights Libraries and several events at Lake Erie Ink, and got hooked.

“I got a name for myself, kind of, and so people know me and it’s really cool,” Halim said. “It’s just something that makes me feel good, and hopefully what I’m saying helps somebody else feel better and they can relate to what I’m trying to say.”

Halim said that she can often write poems on request, as long as it is something she has some experience with. “Most things I can just be like, OK. It might not be really good at first, but then I always come back, erase, fix, switch lines, and it will turn into something,” she said.

She counts among her mentors the poet Maya Angelou, who she said she has loved since she was a child, and local poets Phoenix Clouden and Eric Odem, who she met at poetry slams. And then there is Amy Rosenbluth. “Amy is really important,” said Halim. “She keeps pushing me to write and telling me that I can’t stop writing.”

Halim plans to attend nursing school, but has to wait until she is old enough, next spring. This fall, she will work to save money for school and take classes at Tri-C to get some prerequisites out of the way.

“I want to be a pediatric nurse. I love kids and I do silly poems,” said Halim. She doesn’t know exactly how her poetry will fit in to her career, but said, “I’m going to keep writing and performing so I can keep the poetic juices flowing.”

Halim said that, as teen poet laureate, “I want to spread poetry—not just performance poetry, but poetry to the younger kids. Some kids are going through some really tough stuff so if they have some way to express themselves it will make their lives a lot easier.”

Halim envisions poetry clubs for boys and girls. “We’ll meet twice per month and have a showcase to show people in the community what we have been working on. We’ll do some collaboration with the boys and the girls, and it will be really cool to have all of the kids working together,” she said. “They’ll have friends that will last because they will become part of something bigger.”

At the June 19 event, Halim read her poem “I’m a teenager.” She said she wrote it during her senior year of high school, when she was facing many challenges. “It’s not easy being a teenager, because times have changed. I wrote it as a way to express myself because that was how I was feeling at the moment, and it turned out to be useful in this instance.”

Halim is eager to get started. “I was so happy,” she said, recalling her reaction when she found out she had been selected teen poet laureate. “I haven’t stopped smiling.”

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:49 PM, 06.30.2014